Monthly Archives: February 2015

Russell Wilson and Fifty Shades and Why Do I Bother


I don’t follow social media kerfuffles. For the most part, I don’t follow social media period. Mostly this is because I can’t stand people, and I doubly can’t stand the egocentric narcissism that too often goes hand in hand with extensive social media use (and yeah, I grok the irony of expressing such a sentiment on a blog — is there a more narcissistic endeavor? — but what can I say, this is my platform, big or small as it may be. In other words, I avoid social media as a rule. I check facebook once every couple of weeks; usually because my wife tells me to. I have a twitter that I’ve used only once; that, for a writing exercise (the result of which, if you care, is here).

But still, social media chases me down, even when I don’t want to use it. Theoretically, technology evolves to make our lives easier, but in a lot of ways, technology is evolving to take over our lives. That’s a post for another day. One sort-of social media thing I do use is Google+, not for networking and posting status updates, but for following certain topics, writing blogs, and other what-have-yous. Now, I’m a football fan (now that I coach soccer, I feel compelled to say “American football” fan despite it being a mouthful), and as such, in the past month, I’ve googled some American football topics. Super Bowl. Playoffs. You know. Well, Google is posed to become the real-world evil stepbrother of SkyNet, so it has started making assumptions about things I’m interested in, and as a result, this little gem appeared in my Google+ window today. In short, Russell Wilson (the quarterback of the not-back-to-back-Super-Bowl-Champion-Seattle-Seahawks) went to see the new film

Sorry. the cognitive disconnect knocked me out of my seat when I almost called Fifty Shades of Greyfilm. Anyway, Russell Wilson went to see this new skin flick for soccer moms and apparently people are pretty mad about it. Not because he wasted his time seeing a movie that was better left in the imaginations of its undeserved audience, but because Russell is a Christian.

There are two issues here, and they have alternately turned my blood to ichor and scorching mercury over the state of our country.

Thing Number the First: a grown man went to see a movie. This grown man happens to be the very well-paid face of a very successful football team. He also happens to have outwardly represented himself as a practitioner of a particular religious faith. Apparently, I missed a step in the middle there that enables perfect strangers to pass moral judgment on him and to condemn him as a hypocrite, but that’s not even what I’m upset about. Religious nutjobs are going to religiously nutjob all over any and everything; it’s their hobby, whereas normal people, you know, knit sweaters or keep bees or write blog posts about trivial sharknado that irritates them vaguely. No, the problem here came well before any religious element got involved in RW’s choice in Saturday night entertainment, and that problem is people who have no business sticking their noses into other people’s business sticking their noses into other people’s business. (The previous sentence is grammatically correct.) For the record, “people who have no business sticking their noses into other people’s business” is just a fancy way of saying “people”, because once you’re an adult and living on your own, the only people whose business your nose belongs in are the people living under your roof, and even then, there are limits. These idiots have decided that somehow the things a well-paid quarterback (whom they have never met in real life) does affects them in some abstract way — be it moral corruption, distaste, disappointment, whatever — and are now harassing him in a real way about it. I’ll grant that sending messages on Twitter might not count as actual real harassment, but I’ll also bet dollars to donuts that he’s received some similar messages in real life, whether via post or shouted on the street or scrawled on a brick on its way through his window.

What really happened? He went to see a movie. Somebody didn’t like it. Rather than eating their feelings or spouting philosophically high-and-mighty biblical aphorisms over a tense family dinner, these somebodies got all in his face about it. This is stupid. Russell Wilson’s business is Russell Wilson’s business. Taylor Swift’s business is Taylor Swift’s business. Even Lady Gaga (who I can’t stand) has business that is entirely her own and does not deserve idiots getting all up in it. The thought that I might have a moral imperative to call somebody on their bad behavior — or their behavior in general — is a concept that our society would do well to get shut of, sooner rather than later, if possible.

Thing Number the Second: Why is this a news story on any outlet, even one as lowest-common-denominator as Bleacher Report? It’d be one thing if it were an isolated incident, but it’s not at all uncommon to see “news stories” about this or that celebrity arguing with another on twitter, or this trashy thing that this politician said. What that means is that you have this one pocket of individuals who are involved in this little online “incident”. Other people “witness” this “incident” and tell other people about it, and like a fight in the schoolyard, suddenly every mouthbreather in shouting distance has gravitated to see one snot-nosed fool land a couple of punches on the next. And then what? It gets broken up, or the parties get bored and go home, and everybody at school blathers about it for a couple of days until the next set of chumps with nothing better to do dust off their dukes for their turn to go a few rounds.

Pardon me for pointing out the obvious, but there is actual news going on. There are atrocities in the world. People are murdering each other. Rights are being violated. Children are starving. Governments are rising and falling like the tides. But also, Russell Wilson went and saw a terrible movie that apparently, maybe, compromises his integrity as a Christian, and that’s apparently, maybe, worth more than a few idiots in their basements flipping their collective sharknado over.

And here’s Thing Number the Third, which occurred to me in the writing of this awful rant. I — me, personally — was dumb enough to click on the thing, stupid enough to read the thing, imbecilic enough to put myself into the dog-poo-encrusted shoes of the people involved to try to understand their thinking, and finally moronic enough to put this much effort into writing about how wasteful the whole thing was.

I think this is the part where I stop writing, and this entire post vanishes in a puff of self-aware irony.

Advertisements

Dreams Don’t Mean Things


So I had a dream the other night in which I was playing pickup football (because I totally do that) at a friend’s party (because I totally go to those). Usually I don’t remember much about my dreams, but for some reason this one stuck with me after I woke up. Now, I don’t put a lot of stock in dream symbolism, aside from obvious metaphors (oh, you were fighting with a seven-headed bear-monster with the body of Chuck E. Cheese? That means you have a struggle to overcome in your life). I do, however, think that the brain works on its issues buried beneath the surface (or even slathered all over the surface like butter on a stack of pancakes) through dreams, which is why I think that dreams are some of those situations where THINGS MEAN THINGS.

Anyway, in the dream, it’s just a couple of guys noodling around tossing a pigskin, but then the scene shifts a little in that funny way that dreams do (one moment I’m licking cupcake batter off a giant spatula and the next I’ve got my arms and legs wrapped around the leathery neck of an alligator and somehow this makes perfect sense). Suddenly it’s like the warm-up game before a for real Georgia game. UGA being my alma mater, this isn’t particularly strange. Then, for whatever reason, I look up into the stands and notice a friend of mine. Somehow, amidst all the hubbub before the game, she looks down at the field and sees me, too.

With that, the pickup game is over and the proper game is about to start, so I head up into the stands and manage to track her down. She’s sitting with an old, grumpy, obese woman in a wheelchair and a friend of hers from work and the theater group they founded. (This friend, who is a touch over five feet in real life, somehow towers a foot over me when we are standing shoulder-to-shoulder in this dream.) So we chit and we chat, about life, none of which came back with me from the dream. The old woman, it turns out, is dying of cancer and griping about a time in her life when 40 degrees was warm (she apparently can’t feel any warmth at all now and is always cold, thus all the blankets covering her up in the wheelchair).

And as is often the case with dreams, there’s no narrative. The conversation doesn’t go anywhere, nothing really happens, and that’s pretty much where it ends… next thing I remember is the plaintive wails of my not-quite-1-year-old irritating me into wakefulness.

Now, the thing that resonates is this friend of mine. This is a friend who’s always sort of existed in my periphery. We went to rival high schools but met through theater events and competitions. We went to college together, but never shared any classes. We both still live in the Atlanta metro area, but not really close enough to ever get together. I’m sorry to say that she’s one of those legions of people who I only really keep up with on facebook, which is a shame, but as any parent knows, trying to keep up social relationships outside of home and work can be like trying to pull a starved, insane badger off your face… much easier said than done.

Do things mean things? The last time I had a dream about this friend, I ended up getting in touch with her and getting involved in her local theater group, which was among the funnest experiences of my adult life.

Oh, and I forgot to mention one other thing. She works — or at least, worked — at a small publishing company here in Atlanta. Which means that this dream is probably my subconscious way of telling myself that it’s time to stop flerping around and get my novel into the hands of somebody who can do something about it. But casually. You know. Like at a pickup football game.


Bart Luther, Freelance Exorcist


Chuck’s challenge this week: The Four Part Story, part two. It’s a round-robin storytelling exercise, and this week I’m extending the story started last week by Josh Loomis: Bart Luther, Freelance Exorcist. The story started off at 980 words. I added about 1005.

Josh’s bit begins the story. My bit begins after the asterisks. If you enjoy it, click back to Josh’s blog and let him know, too!

 

Bart Luther, Freelance Exorcist

I can’t imagine to understand everything that occurs in my life. I can’t account for everything I’ve seen. At least in terms of science. But those aren’t the circles I’ve traveled in, even after I left the church.

Not that me leaving keeps the church out of my life.

The balding priest sitting across my desk from me kept looking down at his hat, his fingers on the brim, perhaps because instructions were embroidered on it in really tiny letters. I rested my elbows on the desk’s blotter and interlaced my fingers in front of my chin. The clock on my wall ticked away seconds quietly. Finally, he took a deep breath and looked up at me.

“Forgive me, Mister Luther. This is not the sort of thing I am used to discussing.”

I shook my head. “It’s okay, Father O’Donnell. This isn’t the normal thing your parishioners deal with.”

“Ah… yes.” His brow furrowed. “I would appreciate it if you did not mention I brought this to you.”

“Right. Because the church would not want to admit that things like this actually exist.”

O’Donnell shifted uncomfortably in the chair. I kept myself from shaking my head or making a retching noise. Instead, I took a deep breath.

“Why don’t you tell me about the problem?”

“The problem is Samantha. She’s the daughter of one of our parishioners. She’s sixteen years old.”

I lowered my hands to reach for my notebook and a pen. “Possessed?”

“I’m not sure.”

I stopped writing. “You’re… not sure? Is it possible she just has a fever or something?”

O’Donnell shook his head. “She is speaking in tongues. Being… abrasive with her parents, when she never has before. She refers to things she could not possibly know. We cannot think of another way to explain it.”

“And how are you keeping the family from telling everybody in the neighborhood their daughter is possessed by a demon?”

“Her father told me of the trouble in confession. I reminded him that what he told me there remained between us, and that his wife and household were also bound by that stricture.”

I chuckled. “No wonder the girl was open to possession. It’s clear her old man isn’t very bright.”

O’Donnell glared at me. “I don’t think I appreciate your tone, Mister Luther.”

“Not the first time I’ve heard that.”

“We don’t have time for this.”

I looked up from my notes. “If you don’t like how I do things, Father, the door is behind you. Best of luck finding another freelance exorcist in the phone book.”

“But you are not listed in the phone book, Mister Luther. The church office has your card on file.”

Some priests, like most nuns, have no sense of humor. “My point is, I am your only option, unless you want to dust off your older texts, launder a fresh collar, and do this yourself.”

“I have no experience with such things. You have a great deal. Which is why you charge such exorbitant amounts of money for your… freelance exorcism services.”

“I also ghost-write inspirational books for churches like yours to sell in their gift shops!” I gave Father O’Donnell my best, cheesiest smile. He glared at me.

“Please. Mister Luther.” He paused. “Bartholomew. She needs your help.”

I sighed. “You don’t have to use the girl to get me to help you, Mike. I’m going to do it.”

“You had your reasons for leaving the church, I know, and…”

“Mike, come on, it’s okay. I’m sorry I was so hard on you. You can relax.”

The priest clutched his hat and let out a long breath. “It has been a hard time for me. I christened Samantha. Her confirmation is in two weeks. Or, at least, it should be.”

That got a smile. “Do you know I still have my confirmation bible?”

The priest started smiling, too. “Still sentimental after all these years, my son? That’s a promising sign.”

“You know I’m not coming back to the church, right?”

“I’m not sure why you left the priesthood in the first place…”

“I didn’t like the view from the inside.” I picked up my valise, opening it to check the inventory. “I still pray every day, Mike, and I do what I can to do right by Christ and my neighbors. But between bilking innocent, gullible people for cash and all of the shady crap the Vatican’s been responsible for over the years…”

Father O’Donnell held up his hands in surrender. “I do not agree with your reasoning, Bartholomew. But I’m heartened to know you’re still serving the Lord.”

I shook my head. “However you see it. Now, what else can you tell me about Samantha?”

Father O’Donnell told me where Samantha and her family lived, the sort of things she’d been saying, and I wrote all of it down. I made a fresh batch of coffee, poured some into a paper cup for Mike with a lid, and handed it to the priest before he left. I returned to my desk and sat.

An actual exorcism. From everything Mike had told me, Samantha was now renting out her head to one of the more nasty denizens of Dis. I dug out one of my source journals and looked through my notes. I had it narrowed down to a few possibilities, but I would need more information before I knew for sure. I closed up my journals and notebook, dropping them in the valise on top of the vials of holy water and my blessed crucifix.

I needed to get myself to Samantha’s family’s house to try and save her. But I also needed to make sure I had all the help I could manage. If I was right, I wasn’t the only one in danger.

So, taking a deep breath, I reached for my phone and started to dial her number.

*******

When I pulled up to the house, Nora was already there; arms crossed, leaning back on her beat-up old Volkswagen in a sweater two sizes too big for her. Her mom’s. She watched, unmoving, as I parked my dented Chevy and got out.

It’s an old and practiced way between us, the way we stand apart, waiting. I won’t hug her unless she invites it, but she won’t. Not after our last parting. With an inward chuckle, I counted my blessings that she even came. Truth be told, I didn’t expect her even to take my call.

“Dad.” Her eyes dropped to the gravel drive. She ground a few stones under her heel.

I almost choked up. Years had passed since she called me that. “Sweetie.”

She jerked her head toward the house, the last rays of the setting sun glinting off her hipster sunglasses. “You speak to the family yet?”

I’d gotten my valise out of the backseat to check its contents again. Not that I needed to, but old habits die hard. “Thought I’d let myself be surprised. You?”

“Just poked around out here a little bit.”

“Getting anything?”

“Fear. Confusion. Flashes of anger and hurt.” She cast a resentful eye at me. “The usual family stuff.”

I let her barb pass; she could say a lot worse, and I’d deserve it. I popped my bible into my pocket, snapped the valise shut, and moved toward the front door, stretching my arm out to her. She shoved her hands into her pockets and walked in front of me.

The steps to the front door creaked soothingly underfoot, like an old rocking chair Nora’s granddad used to sit and spin tales in. I thought of him and then I think of how he died, all hooked up to tubes and howling in pain. It’s not a memory any of us cherish, and I hadn’t thought of him in years. The memory just jumped to the surface like a fish in a calm pond. I glanced at Nora, but she was laser-focused on the door.

“Ready?” I asked.

Wordlessly, she rang the bell.

A heavy clatter of rushed footsteps, and the door opened just a crack. Darkness inside, and one wild eye peering out at us in the knife of dusky light. “Are you the priest?”

No. “Yes.”

A thunder of stampeding feet came from the second floor, and the man winced away from the noise like a frightened dog. “I wish you hadn’t rung the bell.” His voice was hushed, the whisper of a hunted child afraid for its life.

“Samantha?”

The stomping stopped, and the man’s face grew pale. “Don’t say her name.”

“Mister Gallod?” Nora’s voice was level and warm, and entirely unlike the voice she uses with me. “May we come in?”

Ed Gallod thought for a moment and then shuffles aside. We’d barely cleared the door when he eased it closed behind us, muffling its clicks as best he could. The only light came from dim, smoky candles. Piles of open books were strewn around the couch, the floor. Unwashed dishes crowded the sink. The disarray made it feel like a squatter’d been living there. Ed trudged a well-worn path through the mess and sat amidst a pile of books. He cleared a space for Nora to sit, and offered to do the same for me, but I declined. I was too nervous to sit still. My eyes watered at the candle smoke, but something else burned behind it. Sulphur. That awful eggy stink burrowed right up into my nose and nested there. Funny, I hadn’t smelled it at all outside. Nora either didn’t smell it or didn’t show it.

“Sorry about the mess,” Ed whispered. He looked like he might crawl right out of his skin. “I’d turn on the lights, but … they just go off. TV’s nothing but static or … voices.” He licked his lips and passed a grimy hand over his face. “Or screaming.” Tears welled in his eyes.

“Father O’Donnell told us. You don’t have to go through it again.” The stairway at the dark end of the hallway gaped like a maw and disappeared halfway up its length. I wished there was light. Light helps.

Nora reached across and lay her delicate fingers across the back of his hand, and a veil lifted. His eyes went clear and he looked at her, and at me, as if seeing us for the first time. His voice, still hushed, came out stronger, resolute. “What do you need?”

“Do you have something of hers? Something personal.”

With a trembling finger, he pointed to the armchair next to Nora. A ratty little stuffed elephant perched there, missing an eye, but cheerful and pink in the half-light. “Her mother was holding onto it… I don’t know, to remind herself of what S–” he stopped and cast his eyes at the ceiling. “Of what she was like. Before she left.”

O’Donnell had told me. Samantha’s mother couldn’t take it. Left town. Went to stay with her sister, and left poor Ed to deal with their possessed daughter all by his lonesome. Poor sap.

Nora took the little elephant and crossed to me, turning it over and over in her hands, her eyes closed. She shuddered a little and then looked at me. I raised my eyebrows at her. She nodded. I turned to Ed.

“Let’s go meet your daughter.”

With heavy steps, candle in hand, he led us up the stairs. The air on the second floor stifled, like a sauna on a summer day. The sulphur smell grew stronger as Ed stopped at the door that could only be Samantha’s. My gut turned to ice. At the floor, under my feet, I saw fingernail scratches in the wood, like somebody had been dragged into the room. I tried to control my breathing, but I couldn’t: it wasn’t me breathing. The sound of angry, quick, snorted breaths filled the hall. The door loomed. My fingers found my bible in my pocket.


A Fresh Coat of Paint


This post is part of SoCS. This week’s topic: Attachment.

We’ve spent the past 48 hours fixing up this old house, the wife and I.

That’s 48 hours of parent time, which is measuredly and markedly less efficient than regular human time, because parent time is punctuated regularly by appointments with a baby who is hungry, a baby who is sad, a baby who is upset, a baby who is angry, a baby who wants attention, a baby who is attempting to pull all the sharp things off the table and into her mouth, a baby who has somehow figured out a way to deepthroat the remote control that’s twice as big as her head. We even got her big brother out of the house and off to the grandparents’ for a couple of nights to buy us extra time, and we still spent the day scrambling. As a result, in 48 hours we got three bathrooms painted.

It’s a chore which, we realized after just a few hours, was about four and a half years overdue. (We’ve been in the house for five years.) For all that time, the walls have remained the same bland, inoffensive taupe, plus or minus the scribblings of our two-year-old and a few decorative pictures and photos. They say taupe is soothing, but what it is, really, is invisible and characteristic of nothing. Which I guess makes it the perfect color for a house you’re trying to sell: it’s a blank slate for prospective owners to color with their own hopes and expectations. Somehow, we never got around to filling it with those things for ourselves. We can blame it on the kids a little bit, but ultimately, we just hadn’t taken the time to do it.

And therein lies another realization. Why were we able to let this little thing go so long without being done? Why have we stared for five years at the same bland, inoffensive walls, without being overcome by the surge of frustration at the vacuous sameness of it all? Because we’ve never been particularly attached to it.

Don’t get me wrong: I love our house. It’s a weird kind of wonky style with lots of open space and plenty of room for us and all of our stuff. It’s been the empty husk in which germinated the pale little seedlings of our tiny family. It’s in a nice enough neighborhood, away from traffic, and with pretty decent neighbors. But I also hate our house. That wonky style is born of the 70’s, which is when the house was built, and you can tell, because parts of the house are starting to fall apart as you might expect things built in the 70’s to do. Underneath the taupe paint we’ve discovered layers upon layers of horrible — and I mean really quite atrocious — wallpaper with nausea-inducing patterns and colors. I’m talking about gold-and-green flowers on chocolate brown background. It’s buried behind the light fixtures and air vents, and any time I undertake a home improvement project, I’m always discovering the stuff, like little breadcrumbs leading me back to the house’s horrifying past.

At any rate, my wife and I are both feeling that it’s about time to move on. Our family has grown, and like a snake growing too big for its skin, we need to leave our old trappings behind. We need a basement. I’d like a study that doesn’t double as a guest room. It’d be nice if we could find a place that comes with insulation in the walls. It’d be peachy if the pipes in the new place don’t explode at the slightest glance from the gods of winter.

Our little project this weekend has shone a sharp light on just how ready we are to move. All of a sudden our heads are full of all the little things we need to do to get this place ready to sell: fixing up the porch, replacing carpets, painting rooms and walls and doors… the list is growing by the minute. That said, we handled three rooms this weekend, which is not bad for a sleep-deprived couple with a nine-month-old who still isn’t sleeping through the night.

Not that I’m complaining. That little girl, unlike the house, I am actually quite attached to.


Free Money (Somebody Has to Win, Right?)


Apparently the Powerball is up to $500 million.

I know this because my wife made me go get a ticket tonight. I protested that if we wanted to throw money away, it would be easier, faster, and in fact cheaper to simply take my cash out on the back porch and burn it. But ours is a typical American patriarchal marriage, so I got in the car and headed around the corner to the gas station.

Did you know you can now buy lottery tickets online? Of course I didn’t, or I wouldn’t have wasted the extra money in gas to drive to the station to throw my money down the gullet of Big Lottery. But when I arrived at home, my wife had pulled up the website to see when the drawing was, and lo and behold, you can buy your lotto tickets online. This shocked me, because I can remember a time not so very long ago when I tried to buy a scratch-off ticket to go with my Snickers bar and Icee (it was a rough time in my life) in a convenience store, and the clerk happily rang up my frozen sugar but told me I couldn’t buy lottery tickets with a card. Cash only, he said. Why, I said. Because you can run out of cash, he said. I asked if that was really a problem; if people would really spend more money than they had for the privilege of rubbing a quarter against a lacquered piece of paper for a dopamine hit. He got a little dead in the eyes and told me I had no idea, then proceeded to tell me about customers — regulars — who would come into the station and buy one scratch-off ticket after another, winning three dollars here, ten dollars there, and using the winnings to buy more tickets, then going to their pockets for more cash when the wins ran out. I know a guy who’ll come in on a Friday and burn through a hundred bucks in fifteen minutes, he said.

I guess it shouldn’t surprise me. There are entire towns in our more-or-less-great nation built on the broken hopes and dreams of citizens trying to get rich quick, thinking that if they play the odds in just the right way, or at just the right time, a tidal wave of cash will sweep them out of their miserable existence. I’m torn between complete apathy and really soul-crushing sadness over that, because there are individuals out there who have gambled their lives away. On the one hand, you make your own bed by playing a game that’s rigged against you. On the other, the system that rigs the game rigs it by making you think it’s rigged in your favor. You win a little bit here, maybe a lot there, and you don’t notice the steady stream of dollars out of your bank account.

But we’re hardwired to think that way, aren’t we? Somehow each of us thinks, “I’m not like everybody else.” “It’ll never happen to me.” “Somebody has to win, so why not me?” And it takes us by great surprise when the universe reminds us, sometimes in the harshest of ways, that we are, in fact, just like everybody else. We are all unique little snowflakes, but nobody cares about your delicate crystalline structure when they’re shoveling millions of you and your inimitable brethren off their sidewalks or scraping you off their windshields. Everybody thinks they’re different, and maybe they are, but we’re different like all the ingredients in a borscht are different: they all bleed into the same red, gloopy, tomato-ey mass. I’m reminded of this little Gary Larson gem:

The lottery takes advantage of this defect in our thinking, and paradoxically its effect is greater the more people play it. More buyers mean a bigger jackpot, which draws in more buyers, which increases the jackpot, until it’s 9:45 on a Wednesday and my wife is sending me out in my gym shorts and sandals to buy a slip of paper that will be as useless tomorrow morning as the roll of toilet paper sitting on the back of the john. No, wait, sorry — the toilet paper is thick and absorbent and two-ply, and has a very specific and necessary function, while the lotto ticket I bought serves only as a badge of shame that I allowed myself to be taken in, even for a moment, by the thought that maybe, just maybe, my wife and I could be millionaires tomorrow.

We won’t be. Somebody may be, but probably not me, and probably not you, either. And our lives won’t be any different, except that I’m a few dollars poorer.

Unless I win.

*crosses fingers*

*slaps self across face*

Except I won’t win.

*secretly crosses fingers behind own back*


%d bloggers like this: